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literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

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Whitman, Walt (1819-1892)  
 
page: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  

"Adhesiveness"

The word adhere takes on particular significance here, for it is linked to the phrenologists' term adhesiveness, which Whitman appropriated and made into a term for homosexuality. Whitman's first use of the term makes its meaning for him clear:

Here is adhesiveness--it is not previously fashion'd, it is apropos;
Do you know what it is as you pass to be loved by strangers?
Do you know the talk of those turning eye-balls?
          (11. 91-93)

Sponsor Message.

For Emerson the eyeball was transparent, offering no physical barrier between mind and pure idea; for Whitman the eyeball was restored to its physical being, and made into an organ of desire.

This scene of cruising clarifies the meaning of Whitman's city: It is the place of multiple sexual invitations. If the city offers a confirmation of the widespread nature of male desire, it still offers for Whitman no sense of identity. He proposes "adhesiveness," the unfashioned word, to fill that gap.

Beginning with section 9, Whitman begins all but one of the remaining sections of the poem with the French revolutionary call, "Allons!" The exhortation and the plural subject indicate a sense of shared urgency.

The road that leads to individual freedom also leads to self-discovery and self-identification. Marching through the streets, he calls forth his fellow "adhesives," urging them to take their place in the great Enlightenment parade of released subjectivity.

He recognizes the price paid for concealment, the price of the closet. "Out of the dark confinement! out from behind the screen!" he exclaims. Those being called on to join the procession have led lives of self-hatred, filled with the internalization of social judgments.

Their double lives hide "a secret silent loathing and despair," the despair of those who can reveal their truth to no one. Such people are everywhere, Whitman insists, married, in public life, apparently conventional citizens, but always unable to speak of themselves.

It is the desperate lives of such people that give rise to the revolutionary fervor of "Song of the Open Road." Asking for "active rebellion," Whitman reassures his readers that he himself has "tried" the "open road" of resistance to sexual orthodoxy.

As if to demonstrate his own experience, and his willingness to speak on their behalf, he closes the poem with a gesture of friendship and love that breaks down social barriers.

Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?
          (11. 220-224)

The 1860 Edition

The most important poem of this period is the work composed in 1856, originally called "Proto-Leaf" and placed first in the 1860 Leaves of Grass: It is known now as "Starting from Paumanok."

Beginning autobiographically, and thus locating himself as part of a specifically American heritage (even to the North American Indian name and sense of precolonial history), Whitman moves to a justification of his art.

As in so many of the 1860 poems, Whitman sees his purpose as the foundation of an "ideal of manly love." The need for an inherently egalitarian form of affection, intricately tied as it is to the democratic mission of the United States, is not merely social, but deeply personal.

Whitman recognizes the need to write out of his experience of frustration and denied love, to "let flame from me the burning fires that were threatening to consume me" by writing "the evangel-poem of comrades and of love."

Human love and divine love are celebrated as equals; it is no longer a matter of using the world as a means to a higher state of being.

Whitman celebrates the history and the future of America (unfortunately leaving "the red aborigines" as little more than the "names" after their "depart[ure]").

At the end of the poem, Whitman constructs one of his marvelous catalogues, or paratactic structures of parallelism that celebrate diversity of vision, each of the lines beginning "See."

The cities, technology, nature, work are all hailed as part of a triumphant vision of the future. The last two sections make it clear that that utopian vision can be achieved by the poet and his comrade and the "adhesiveness" they share. The poem ends in an ecstatic call to "one more desirer and lover" to "haste, haste on, with me."

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